Posidonius, Caesar, Augustus, and Shakespeare: Their Contributions to the Study of Rome

Posidonius, Caesar, Augustus, and Shakespeare: Their Contributions to the Study of Rome


This article discusses the contributions of Posidonius, Caesar, Augustus, and Shakespeare to the study of Rome. It explores works by each of these individuals and the impact they had on the understanding of Rome and its political and social systems. The article also discusses the controversy surrounding their legacies and analyzes the ways in which their works continue to impact modern scholarship.

Table of Contents

  • Posidonius and Caesar’s Ethnographies
  • Caesar’s Civil War and the Question of Monarchy
  • Augustus’ Rise to Power and His Rule
  • Shakespeare’s Roman Plays and Political Themes
  • Controversy Surrounding Their Legacies


Posidonius and Caesar’s Ethnographies

Who was Posidonius, and what did he write about the Gauls?

Posidonius was a Greek philosopher who wrote an extensive ethnography of the Gauls based on his personal investigations throughout various territories. He noted their houses, habit of nailing the heads of defeated enemies to their houses, and their highly hierarchical society, demonstrated in their feasting practices.

How did Julius Caesar’s work differ from Posidonius’?

Julius Caesar also wrote about the Gauls but made a sharp distinction between the Gauls and the Germans, across the northern boundary of Gaul. He defined Britain as the third part of the north and implied its suitability for Roman conquest.

What impact did these ethnographies have on the study of Rome?

These ethnographies provided important insights into the Gauls and allowed for greater understanding of the cultural distinctions between different regions within Rome.

Caesar’s Civil War and the Question of Monarchy

What was Julius Caesar’s role in the civil war against Pompey?

Julius Caesar waged a civil war against Pompey and others and eventually became the dictator with unprecedented powers greater than any other magistrate at Rome. The office of dictatorship was last used before the time of Sulla, in 202 BC, and only for short periods.

How did Caesar attempt to assert his dominance, and what was the response?

Caesar’s inflation of the office raised the question of whether or not he was to be seen as the king of Rome. This question was brought to the forefront during the Lupercalia festival on 15 February 44 BC, where Antony offered Caesar a crown and much confusion ensued. The event was carefully stage-managed, with Caesar ultimately rejecting the crown in an attempt to make it clear that he was not to be seen as a monarch. However, this attempt failed, and contemporaries were baffled as to what had actually happened.

What were the conflicting views of Caesar’s legacy after his assassination?

The assassination of Caesar just a month later also raised questions about his legacy, with some seeing him as a fine ruler of Rome while others saw him as an arbitrary tyrant.

Augustus’ Rise to Power and His Rule

How did Augustus become the most powerful person in the Roman world?

Augustus emerged as the most powerful person in the Roman world after the civil war that followed the alliance between Antony and Augustus turned sour. The defeat of Antony and Cleopatra at the naval battle of Actium in 31 BC left Augustus without competitors.

What changes did Augustus make to political and religious institutions in Rome?

Augustus did not abolish many political and religious institutions but modified their functions to his advantage. He combined consulship and tribunician power to define his position and became the holder of all major priesthoods of Rome. Augustus presented himself as the leading member of a family and used adoption to add new male heirs to the family. His wife Livia was a prominent figure in public administration and building activities.

What was the impact of Virgil’s work on Augustus’ rule?

There was a move to stress the political unity of Italy and to downplay the Social War. Virgil’s epic poem, the Aeneid, depicted the battle of Actium as a clash between the gods of Italy and those of Egypt. His work became an instant classic, hailed by contemporary poets and adopted as part of the school curriculum.

Shakespeare’s Roman Plays and Political Themes

What political and social themes did Shakespeare explore in his Roman plays?

Shakespeare’s Roman plays dealt with political and social themes against the backdrop of Rome, which provided a common context for the plays. Rome was seen as acceptably classical and not the fixed symbol of any particular virtue or vice, allowing greater freedom in exploring political issues. The play Julius Caesar explored the questions of when monarchy becomes tyranny, ruling without resorting to violence and suppression, and whether or not assassination was ever justified. The play also depicted the contradictions of Republican political ideology and the fragility of political virtue.


Posidonius, Caesar, Augustus, and Shakespeare all made significant contributions to the study of Rome and influenced future scholarship. However, their legacies were not without controversy, with some seeing them as responsible for the bloodshed and chaos of their times while others viewed them as transformative figures in Roman history. The impact of their works continues to be felt and studied to this day, informing our understanding of Rome and its political and social systems.

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